3 Ways To Create Just Another Boring Airbnb or Vacation Rental

That Nobody Wants to Book




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March 17, 2014

Nobody in the Airbnb or vacation rental business wants to own or manage a tired, boring and mediocre short-term rental.

After all, you put a lot of work into your holiday rental. You read the latest vacation rental marketing advice and get lots of great tips on the latest booking systems, building a dedicated website, being a responsive and pro-active host, designing incentives for guests to book again.

But still. You can’t help wondering if you have a solid chance of getting anyone to really take note of your rental, let alone book it.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a huge amount of respect for great Airbnb and vacation rental marketing advice and I think you should be trying out all the latest techniques for attracting new guests, but don’t ignore the equally compelling evidence that generically decorated vacation rentals don’t get many clicks, even if you are a marketing genius. Mediocre décor begets mediocre bookings.

There is no getting around it.

So ask yourself this: What makes your vacation rental aesthetically different from the thousands of other vacation rentals vying for bookings?

Most vacation rentals differ little from each other in design. The same stone countertops, the same big box store cabinets, the bedding ‘set,’ the generic beige sofa, the framed poster, the polyester filled quilt bought at Costco, matching furniture sets with that fake ‘espresso’ polyurethane finish – you know, the usual.

But nobody is inspired by these generic holiday rentals. Potential guests are sick of mind-numbingly boring vacation rentals that all look the same, and they scan through listing after listing like a box of popcorn.

If you’re not offering anything that makes them stop in their tracks and sigh with desire, why should they hang around? Time is precious.

Next listing.

The problem is, few people know how to create an extraordinary short-term rental.

Most of the time, they feel a little overwhelmed. What type of towels should one buy, how should one configure the furniture in the living room? It’s hard to tell what looks good and what doesn’t. It feels like a huge, endless guessing game.

I started 1 Chic Retreat to address these issues, but in this article, I’m not going to tell you what to do.

Instead I’m going to tell you what NOT to do. And then give you a simple way to correct it.

Sometimes you can’t understand what to do until you first understand what NOT to do. So, let’s start there.

Here’s the list of the top three design mistakes to avoid so you don’t end up in the all too common category of Mediocre and Tired Airbnb or Vacation Rental. How many are you guilty of?

Alright, let’s dive in….

vacation rental mistakes

1. Granny and Frat Guy Bedding

Granny Bedding

Most people love their grandmothers. I certainly do, but I certainly don’t want her translated into a bedspread. There is just nothing right about Granny in the bedroom. On vacation. You get my gist, right?

If you have one of these, please get rid of it as soon as you finish reading this blog post. If you are strangely attached to it, fold it away in your closet and only take it out for your own use. If you don’t adore it to pieces, donate it to a worthy homeless shelter.

If you’re wondering why you don’t get enough bookings and you have Granny bedding, this could be the big, fat reason.

Scroll down and take a good look. These photos don’t have any links because I don’t want to embarrass anyone but believe me, they all come from real vacation rentals or Airbnb’s. Sadly, it took me less than 5 minutes to spot these; thousands of holiday rentals have made this mistake.

bad airbnb bedding

As soon as any potential guest sees this bedspread and accompanying silk pillow setup, they’ll leave the listing. It’s frumpy and unsexy; none of these adjectives should ever be associated with a bedroom. The only things missing are crochet needles and a rocking chair.

ugly vacation rental bedding

I am not against patchwork quilts but this one is hideous. I don’t even think Granny would approve. Retirement time!

Are you starting to catch on? I certainly hope so because way, way too many short-term rentals are guilty of Granny bedding. Now let’s deal with the next calamity.

Frat Guy Bedding

This might feel like a Public Service Warning – flood warning, don’t drive on the road; tornado watch, go in your basement; don’t do meth. But listen up folks, don’t put Frat Guy bedding in your Airbnb or holiday rental.


We have all seen this bedding, and some of us have probably bought something like it (like my brother when he was in a fraternity) or (GASP) own bedding like this now. It is readily available at most mass market bedding retailers, which makes it a prime target for vacation rental owners. It’s always dark (with the reasoning that stains won’t show) made of synthetic fabric (giving it a cheap shine) and it almost always has matching pillows (so it’s a “set”). Because of its pervasiveness, owners often acquiesce and end up buying it out of sheer ignorance.

Men tend to buy this bedding, hence the name ‘frat guy bedding.’ I suppose it’s because it’s dark and therefore macho or something, it’s appealing. The thing is, it’s trying to look sexy with it’s dark, satiny self and when things try so hard and then fail, they look cheesy, cheap, and generic – a very, very bad mixture.

Stop buying frat guy bedding. It’s ugly and no one wants to sit on it, let alone sleep under it.

It’s gross.

ugly airbnb bedding

This dark, satiny bedding thinks it’s saying, “hey baby, come into my lair,” but what it’s actually saying is, “how fast can you run?”

abnb mistakes

Can we all just agree to not buy any bedding with maroon in it? In fact, the only time maroon is ok is when it’s in a wine glass.

What to do instead of Granny and Frat Guy Bedding

1. Get a bedspread or duvet (I personally favor duvets) made of natural fibers – linen, cotton, or even wool (in cold climates). If you go with a pattern, keep it subtle and simple. Big, bold patterns can literally ruin a bed.

2. Pair it with simple white sheets,

3. Drape a gorgeous throw or blanket at the bottom,

4. Add a few chic shams at the top.

5. Then read this post for creating a romantic bedroom, to make it even better.

You’re done. End of problem.

Move on.

Look at the photos below for inspiration.

The White House in Daylesford, Australia

Bed linens do not have to be fancy; in fact, my motto is “the simpler, the better.” In this guest room, crisp white sheets, a striped red duvet, a simple flour sack pillow sham and a knitted throw, draped casually at the bottom of the bed, complete a stunning bedroom tableau. Do you see how the bed actually calls to you? It’s the signal that you have mastered the bed linens.  The White House, Daylesford, Australia

how to stage a vacation rental

Simple bed setups appeal to guests more than fussy, tucked in monstrosities. House in Venice, a vacation rental in Venice, California, has only a white duvet cover, a cotton coverlet, gray sheets and lambskin shams. The outcome is wholesomely luxurious. House design by Chinese Jesus.

2. The Camel – otherwise known as the Ungainly Brown/Tan Couch


airbnb mistakes

The ugly and characterless brown/tan couch is found in way too many vacation rentals. The fabric is almost always synthetic, the body is chunky and ungainly (never sleek and sexy) and the color is usually an unappealing color somewhere between brown and tan. 

Let me guess. The typical reasoning behind buying a big, brown/tan couch is it’s ample enough to fit a bunch of guests; its color, being nondescript, will go with everything else in the room. You assume that because the color is neutral, everyone will like it, or at least not hate it. It’s tan/brown color and fabric – typically polyester something – will last many years, cutting down on upholstering later. And if it’s big and chunky, it’s comfortable, right?

Wrong! In so many, many ways.

Before I explain why let me ask you something.

Would you put a camel in your living room?

A Camel does not belong in your vacation rental

If you translate a camel into a sofa, you get The Camel Couch. Please, a camel does not belong in a vacation rental nor does a Camel Sofa.

After all, the reasoning is much the same. A camel is tannish-brownish so it goes with everything, it lives for a very long time, and it can carry heavy loads, including people. It’s low-maintenance. Practical. You can even dress it up a bit with interesting blankets and cushions, right?

How can that remotely be the same? Who in their right mind would bring a camel into an Airbnb or a vacation retreat? Aside from the inconveniences of having a live (pooping) animal in your midst, it’s ugly.

It’s hideous.

And they even spit!

Well, I hate to break it to you but your beige, brownish, lumpy couch is equally unbecoming. It’s ugly and equally out of place in your holiday rental.

airbnb mistakes

The reasoning behind lumpy, beige-ish coaches such as this one is that it looks comfortable and that the color goes with everything, right?

Let’s call it a Camel Couch for convenience sake, shall we?

Camel couches look shoddy like you haven’t put much thought into furnishings. Their surface feels like cheap motel upholstery as if you bought it at the cheapest discount furniture warehouse (and admit it, you probably did). They are lumpy, ungainly and dowdy. The color is boring too.

If it’s an L-shape, even worse. The L-shaped camel couch, invented to fit more people into the sitting area, rarely works because it’s so bulky, it ends up dominating the room.

So what’s the solution?

Get rid of it!

Camel Couches are money losers. Potential guests take one look and run to the next listing. Literally!

Another lost booking. In the wink of an eye.

What to do instead of the Camel Couch

Get a shapely, sexy ‘sofa’ (notice I say “sofa,” which is a much more appealing word and applies to the much more appealing piece of furniture), gorgeous in its own right. A sofa is able to stand alone and still be eye-stopping.

Start by thinking of the most elegant and stunning person you know, and then translate them into a sofa, or imagine a movie star, a woman like Cate Blanchett, or Naomi Campbell, or a man like Daniel Craig or Sean Connery. They are unique, elegant and confident. If they magically transformed into a sofa, what would they look like?

Got your image?

Now buy that, but in a sofa.

A sofa can be neutral, but it’s neutral in a stunning way. A dark inky denim, deep chocolate brown or a well-heeled khaki color work perfectly.

Here are some inspiring sofas in some equally inspiring vacation homes on Airbnb. Look and learn….

The Palm Springs Sofa

Look at the lines on the sofa in this Airbnb – stunning! Not brownish-tannish. Instead, it’s a rich, chocolate brown, like Argentinian hot chocolate. I’ll bet it wasn’t expensive either. The owner probably found it at a flea market or on Craig’s List and then simply re-upholstered. And it’s comfortable too (I checked out the guest reviews). Book it here.

NY Vacation Rental Sofa

Here’s a slipcovered beauty in the Catskills, NY. The deep blue contrasts nicely with the wheat colored pillows and the side chairs. Doesn’t it make you want to kick back and read that novel you have been putting off? Or even better, take a long, deep, Sunday nap? Book it and you can. Oh, wait! So many other guests like it too that you’ll have to wait five more months. That’s what happens when Airbnb properties are gorgeous.

 3. The Wallflower – Otherwise Known as the Ugly Plastic or Faux Wood TV Stand

You probably know that having a great television in your vacation rental will please guests, right? It’s one of the checklist items the big listing sites tell you that attracts guests. Even better? Include a gaming system with dish or cable, with every channel imaginable, and you’re styling?

Even better? Include a gaming system with dish or cable, with every channel imaginable, and you’re styling?

Good move. Doing so has been proven to attract bookings.

And yet….

Have you ever really considered what the television set-up should look like?

If not, I worry about your chances of getting potential guests to linger on your listing.

Too few vacation rental owners use design strategy in setting up their television entertainment; the misconception starts with assuming that because you have a flat screen television with all accompanying wonder – gaming equipment, DVD player, Apple TV – you will automatically get more bookings.

The error starts when you buy the cheap stand (and why is it always black?!) with the shelves below, place your TV on top, make sure it’s included in a photo, and list all its bells and whistles and assume you’re styling.

Huge mistake.

Why? Because presenting your uber-cool television on a cheesy stand is actually doing the reverse of what you want it to. Without meaning to, you have created a Wallflower.

And Wallflowers repel guests, not attract them.

Refresh your memory of what a wallflower is. According to Wikipedia…

In social situations, a wallflower is a shy or unpopular individual who doesn’t socialize or participate in activities at social events. He or she may have other talents but usually does not express them in the presence of other individuals. The term comes from the image of a person isolating themselves from areas of social activities at ballroom dances and parties where the people who did not wish to dance (or had no partner) remained close to the walls of the dance hall.

You get the gist, right? Your television set-up may have everything a die-hard couch potato guest could ever dream of, but who’s going to notice if it’s standing there alone, ugly in the corner? Who’s going to care?

Take a glance at the photo below to see what I’m talking about.

airbnb mistakes

It took me less than three minutes (yes, I timed it) to find this photograph. Sadly, this is more common than not and is an instant desire killer. The TV’s cords are showing, the black stand looks very cheap and generic and there is nothing else of interest on the wall. Literally, the only thing to do in this room is watching TV. Losing!

Next listing!

This owner just lost a booking.

How to Fix It

Sheath your television and it’s accouterments chic-ly and you will get a lot more clicks. Try hanging it on the wall along with some artwork or mount it above the mantel. Even more simply, find a gorgeous trunk or console table that’s not an obvious “TV stand” and place it on top. It will pay off.

Here are several examples…

airbnb staging

A media console or credenza looks great under a television, and notice that the TV looks great a little off-center so that accessories can be placed on the console. Rent it here.

vacation rental staging

We mounted the television on the wood wall in this Santa Barbara holiday rental, but hung artwork around it to create a gallery wall. See it here.

vacation rental staging

This is one of the cleverest television set-up’s I’ve ever seen. The TV was actually built into the shelving while the cabinets below disguise the gaming equipment. Seen on Remodelista

Inspired? Good! Now your guests will really notice your television and actually be excited about the movies and the cable and the gaming! See? Not so hard.

To Wrap it Up

After reading these booking-killing design mistakes, you might feel a little discouraged and say to yourself, “Wow! I am guilty of all of these or at least one of them. I’ve really messed up. Where should I begin?”

I would say in order of importance: get rid of the Granny or Frat Guy bedding, followed by the Wallflower TV setup and lastly, either donate or reinvent your Camel Sofa.

And then pat yourself on the back that you no longer have just another boring Airbnb or vacation rental that no one wants to book! You have started the journey of having a really chic, bookings-magnet of a short-term rental.

Anything I missed? Post below and tell me about it. I learn a ton from my readers and welcome your feedback! So comment away!

Oh! And I’d love it if you share this message, so press one of the little social media buttons and have a great day!




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